After back-to-back 7-6 seasons to start his career as Penn State football coach, does James Franklin face any pressure to reach a certain number of victories in 2016?
The answer is "no." In fact, as the program continues to emerge from harsh NCAA sanctions stemming from the Sandusky scandal, third-year athletic director Sandy Barbour admits the Nittany Lions are not yet championship material.
“James Franklin wants to win a national championship, and I believe we’re gonna be able to do that,” Barbour told a small group of reporters in her Bryce Jordan Center office Wednesday. “Is it gonna be this year? Probably not. But that’s why you play, because you never know.
“But that’s not the expectation this year,” she added. “The expectation is, are we building to that, are we showing progress, are we making progress toward being a Big Ten and ultimately a national championship contender?”
The things about the PSU football program that have bothered Barbour in her first two years on the job have been overall poor offensive play (which resulted in a change of coordinators last December) and the occasional blowout loss. Last fall alone, the Lions suffered ugly defeats at Temple (27-10), Ohio State (38-10) and Michigan State (55-16).
“That shouldn’t happen,” Barbour said. “We’re gonna lose football games. I’d prefer not to, but we’re gonna lose some. But nobody should blow us out. Nobody.”
But according to Barbour, Franklin is on the proverbial “hot seat” only to the extent that, “every football coach in America is on the hot seat, every athletic director in America is on the hot seat.”
So there is no magic win total the young Nittany Lions must reach this year to keep the coach in favor with the athletic director and — by extension — school president Eric Barron. Thanks primarily to the since-rescinded NCAA sanctions, 54 of PSU’s 81 scholarship players (66.7 percent) have freshman or sophomore eligibility. According to the AD, that impacts expectations for 2016.
“To me, it’s about progress,” Barbour said. Then she went on to note that Franklin and his staff have done “an incredible job of controlling the controllable.” She pointed out that the program’s academic performance “has never been better in the history of Penn State football,” and that Franklin’s team has had very few off-field issues while ramping up events that serve the community.
“Those are the controllables, and I think James and his staff have hit that out of the park,” she said. “And I believe very strongly that, given some of the restrictions, given some of the challenges, that what we’ve done on the football field is pretty darn good.
“Is that acceptable as the long-term state of Penn State football?” she added. “Absolutely not. Of course it’s not. I wouldn’t have come here if I — or we as a community — were going to feel that that’s acceptable. … The No. 1 person leading that charge is James Franklin.”
Barbour indicated that her feelings on these matters are in line with Barron’s. She is also the athletic department’s liaison to PSU’s Board of Trustees.
So what kind of feedback does that group provide?
“It’s no different than our fan base as a whole,” Barbour said. “You know, ‘Really pleased with what we’re doing academically; love James’ enthusiasm. Uh, we need to win more games. Uh, what’s going on with the quarterback situation?’
“Our board of trustees has greater access to me than most,” she added. “But I don’t think overall, in the main, their collective feedback is any different than our overall fan base.”